Soul Man Bobby Harden

@ Lucille’s Grill – Shows @ 8PM & 10PM (Doors @ 6PM & 9:30PM)

When Bobby Harden declares himself a soul man, it’s not some idle bit of role-playing or show biz braggadocio; it’s a straightforward description of his calling in life. There’s a reason his first solo album was titled Soul Purpose. And even though he had to go through a 16-year odyssey before finally following that album up with his new record, River of Soul, Harden has never wavered in his commitment.

The Ohio-born, New York-based singer has been all over the globe as a frontman for the Blues Brothers Band (yes, the one made famous by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd), working alongside R&B legends like Stax guitarist Steve Cropper. But for all the electrifying energy Harden pours out with them, he’s truly at his most emotionally expressive when he’s giving his all in front of his own Soul Purpose band.

It was a circuitous route that led to the creation of River of Soul. For one thing, life introduced some detours into Harden’s path. “I got married 17 years ago,” he explains, “we had two beautiful daughters, and I felt my responsibility was to my family first. No time to travel, but that was my choice. We were so ready to be parents. I didn’t’ want to miss out on the best baby memories. Now our girls are older, and more independent, which gives me and my wife a little more freedom, and me time to tour. My choice paid off. Our daughters are fantastic.”

Unexpectedly, it turns out that Harden’s choice paid off in terms of timing too, because he ended up coming across just the right collaborators for his second album. “This project all came about when I started co-writing with Brian Knox,” he says, “the music was finally coming together for the new CD.” Armed with new material, Harden enlisted the aid of drummer/producer Adrian Harpham, who has been involved with everyone from Dr. John to R&B supergroup Lucy Pearl, and soon things were up and running.

Leon Pendarvis, Blues Brothers keyboardist as well as a Musical Director for the Saturday Night Live band, soon became a crucial component of the creative process. “I had sent Leon the tracks to get his input on the material, mix, etc.,” says Harden. “His ideas were brilliant. He’s not called Leon The Lion for nothing. Leon has worked with Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, and so many other great artists. He agreed to help finish up the mixes and mastered my entire project.”

Harden has found vocal inspiration in the legends of gospel (James Cleveland, Andre Crouch), soul (Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett), and blues (Johnny Adams, B.B. King), but there’s one man whose music has truly helped make him who he is. “James Brown had the biggest influence on me,” Harden reveals, “When I first heard James Brown, I was just about 5 or 6 years old. At that time, I didn’t know I had a good singing voice, but I knew I loved to dance, and JB music would make me dance hard. When I had to learn `Sex Machine,’ `Cold Sweat,’ and `I Got The Feelin” with my first band, Heart and Soul, every bit of my gospel energy was released. I would sing and dance up a storm on that stage.”

But while Harden’s influences are deeply felt and undeniably audible in his music, River of Soul is anything but a retro effort. “I’m not one to stay stuck in the mud by thinking there’s only one way to record R&B,” he says. “But I do think the foundation of a solid R&B groove has to be there.”

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June 3, 2016
Lucille's Grill